I love Christmas. I'm one of those people who has a hard time waiting till after Thanksgiving to put up decorations and to listen to Christmas music. Christmas can be so many things to so many people. It's cozy, sweet, loud, and gaudy. It's quiet, contemplative and beautiful. It's magical, hopeful, and hopefully white. Its dazzling, comforting and delicious. It can also be drunken, consumeristic, selfish and incredibly lonely. (but I try not to focus on those elements) But above all the glitz, and glitter, the Clarence and George Bailey and above the 1950's Santa that I love, is the mystery of the Christ Child. The story of the creator of the galaxies and of fingerprints, of heartbeats and meteors, coming as a helpless baby. Like most kids, I grew up hearing the story in a cute and clean way. The star! The angels! The glowing baby wrapped in clean white cloths! It wasn't till many years later that my eyes were opened in a new way to think about this story.
It was the year 2000. I had been to India for the first time in February and it changed my life. I had the honor of working together with Delhi House to care for the poorest of the poor. I saw people in conditions that I only knew from distant commercials of emaciated kids on TV. I never knew people personally, heard their stories and cared for people who truly had no one to care for them and were left to die alone on the streets. It was terribly eye opening. I saw open wounds, blood and sickness in the beautiful suffering faces, and I saw someone die who I had been trying to help stay alive. I came back to the comfort of my own home not knowing what to do with all the images burned in my mind. What could I do so far away from it all to help? And in the midst of those kinds of questions were the questions toward God. How could a God of love allow the such precious people to suffer?
It was Christmas time. I was single, I felt lonely and desired companionship. Sunday morning came along and I decided to head to church. I wanted to look pretty for someone, so I decided I'd go to church and dress up for Jesus. I put on a nice little punk rock skirt, along with my favorite beaten up, steel toed combat boots and slid down the snowy Minneapolis streets to church. The sermon was of course about baby Jesus...bla bla bla, the story I've heard a million times. My mind was still confused and my image of God was turning more into the God way up somewhere that has no idea or doesn't care about the beloved suffering on the streets of Delhi or elsewhere in the world. A distant, stoic God. But the preacher man described that story in a new light that morning. He talked about how Mary was an unwed teenage pregnant girl, and that Jesus' birth was far from dazzling and sparkling. I remember him saying, “sure there was the star and the angels, but there was also the dirt, and filth and surely a cold wind blowing through that stable.” Jesus was born poor. In a barn, in manure and put in a feeding trough with left over slobber of animals. It hit me hard. It didn't answer my questions as to why there was so much suffering, but it made me see that this God is not far off somewhere clueless. This God came to know and be among the poor, and the outcasts, the down trodden and the lonely. He knows what it feels like to be left alone to die.
The sermon ended and they invited people to come forward to the alter to pray. I headed up with tears streaming. I didn't really know what it all meant, but it felt like my eyes had been opened in a new way. As I knelt there, a lady came by and put her hand on me and started praying for me. Then she knelt down, put her arms around me, and hugged me. Like a mother hen, she held me. She told me to rest, and I was able to, in the midst of the questions accept her arms as the arms of God and receive his love. And then when the well of tears had dried up...she whispered to me, “Jesus wants to tell you that he loves your boots.” My heart melted.
This year I've been thinking a lot about the waiting aspect of Advent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote (while in prison) that Advent is like a prison cell “in which one waits and hopes and does various unessential things...but is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.” I was struck by this quote and inspired to write this song called, “Dungeon Birth.” I've felt more in touch this year with the deep longing to be completely whole and filled and I find myself feeling at times, like a prisoner with the a deep “sehnsucht” for freedom. And in the midst of all the doubt, and filth, suffering and waiting, the Christ Child is born.